Brazil (and Mexico)- can we rely on the data?

I’m puzzled by Brazil. It is the 2nd in the list of new case creation globally – at 122 new cases, per million, per day. It is now the country with the 2nd highest death toll at 42,720 deaths – just edging the UK into 3rd place.

Brazil interests me because it has a very large population (208 million) – and some very densely populated cities (Sao Paulo, its largest city has 12.8 million people). Its GDP per head is around $10k – making it poorer than the US (at $60k). It’s COVID wave started much later than the US, or Europe making it an interesting case study. In the early days of its crisis, the country’s leadership seemed to be in denial.

My expectations therefore were for Brazil to have a very bad experience with COVID. While then 2nd highest number of fatalities might correspond with that narrative it still seems less than I would expect.

Let’s look at the pace of fatalities. From the date of the 100th death – to reach the 1000th death it took Brazil 14 days. It took the UK 12 days, US, Germany and France 11 days, Italy 9 days, and Spain 8 days. Everything seems broadly in line here.

Now, looking at the date of the 10,000th death, it took US and Spain 22 days, France 25, Italy 26, UK 27. Well you get the picture. All of these countries experienced a COVID progression roughly in line with each other.

Now consider this for Brazil – the time to reach the 10,000th death is 43 days. That’s 70% slower than the progression in all of the other countries I have mentioned here. I find that hard to understand. How can Brazil have kept up with a high rate of new cases – and at the same time slowed the progression of the fatality of the disease so quickly? One answer could be improved health outcomes – another could be under reporting of fatalities.

Mexico is showing the same trend as Brazil. Mexico reached its 1000th death 18 days after recording its 100th death. It reached the 10’000th death 57 days later. Mexico has a GDP per head similar to that of Brazil – around $9k per head.

Another key stat – Mexico’s current fatality rate exceeds 11%. It has average daily deaths of 468, and average daily new cases of 4,167. This means Mexico is likely under-reporting cases (the longer term fatality rate is closer to 3.5% in the US and is currently about 3.7% globally). The fact that the data shows that Mexico has taken 57 days to reach the 10’000th death with the current high fatality rate is inconsistent.

If the result is that the data is under reported – then this means the COVID risk is much greater in these countries. This should influence travel restrictions imposed by other countries.

The US currently has travel restrictions from Brazil and Mexico. Other countries should follow suit.

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